NextGen Summit 2023: Purpose driven R&D in green chemistry pivotal for sustainable products

NextGen Summit 2023: Purpose driven R&D in green chemistry pivotal for sustainable products

The alignment of R&D and sales and marketing, focus on bio-based biodegradable products and strong partnerships within and outside industry remained the centre of discussion at the eighth session

  • By Rahul Koul | July 27, 2023

For the chemical industry, be it the R&D, green chemistry, or sustainability goals, all the three are interconnected and crucial for business. Industry experts believe that partnerships within the industry and with academia could unlock a lot of potential opportunities for developing sustainable processes and products.

In this context, a few of the examples aimed at creating sustainable processes and products were discussed at the eighth session, ‘R&D, Green Chemistry and Sustainability Goals’ of NextGen Chemical and Petrochemical Summit 2023 organized in Mumbai by the Indian Chemical News on July 13-14, 2023.  

The session was moderated by Rupark Sarswat, CEO, India Glycols.

Underling the role of the chemical industry in R& D of sustainable processes and products, Sarswat said, “We are going through radical change. It is a never seen before crisis. Oceans are absorbing 90% of energy equivalent to 5 atomic bombs. We are going through an extinction crisis and 50,000 species are getting extinct per year. 20 years on our children will talk about how we dealt with it. On a positive note, there is tremendous development happening on the technology side. The digital technologies including artificial intelligence are influencing everything we are doing, from healthcare to crop care. From a chemical engineering perspective, the carbon capture technology is phenomenal. India has a great opportunity to capture the carbon and produce a great amount of green hydrogen and great new chemistry through it. The chemical industry has a great role to play to meet India’s needs and exploit the opportunities and also to meet the country’s aspirations. Delivering sustainable models is one of the key opportunities before India and is also in the ethos of this country.”  

“The challenges before the chemical industry include high capital investment, utility requirement, energy requirement and environmental pollution. To solve this problem, there is a need to develop sustainable innovative processes for the manufacturing of chemicals and materials. This can be achieved by process intensification which means development of advanced or improved equipment and technologies which would enhance the manufacturing performance in terms of reduction in energy requirements, waste water generation is minimum so that we can get the desired quality of the product. As an example, the paracetamol is manufactured by using a batch process which generates a lot of effluents as well as the cost restriction is there. At the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), we have developed a sustainable continuous process for manufacture of paracetamol using a multi-functional reactor. The beauty of the process is that the overall cost is comparatively lower, waste water generation has been minimized and footprint of the plant is small. We have transferred the technology to the industry that is working on a pilot to start producing the medicine,” said Dr. Sanjay P. Kamble, Senior Principal Scientist, CSIR-NCL. 

“Again the PAP which is the raw material for the paracetamol isn’t available in India and is being sourced from China. At NCL, we are trying to address this by developing a sustainable process by using the PNCP route wherein we are trying to reduce the pollutants. We have also developed the catalyst in such a way that we can recycle it many times. We are in a developing mode at the moment but expecting to develop the PAP option in India,” added Dr. Kamble.

 “Based on the specific needs, there are a few areas where the chemical industry could focus on in terms of sustainability. One of them is bio-based materials. While a section of industry is already manufacturing them, the other part that becomes important is how to enable these bio-materials. For example, there is a big gap in the manufacturing of bioplastics and its availability today. It is not just about doing something with bioplastics but enabling it to do better. I think either innovations India can come up with allow something to happen,” said Belur Krishnamurthy Sethuram, Managing Director, Celanese India.

“Another area is de-risking the supply chain and there is a lot of potential for new innovations to be done. If we take specialty polymers, a lot of intermediates are required whether adhesives or high performing plastics. Many of them are trade secrets and are not easily available chemistries. Companies are aware about their requirements and that can be met through partnering among themselves and with the institutes such as NCL. There is certainly room for meeting some of these requirements. There are a lot many opportunities and strong partnerships help us to overcome the challenges. There is a need to invest downstream,” added Sethuram.

“The key aspect that we look for when we start a new product is the customer feedback. We have a strategic marketing team to find out what are the key value propositions for us and for the customer. So we ask: Why would they buy from us and what needs to be done to prevent the competition’s immediate entry into space? It is also important to work on the right projects as it costs a lot of money and resources. Then we ensure that all the key functions are aligned with each other within the business, meaning marketing, R& D and sales. If the sales team and customers are time again asking about the product launch date, then those are the projects that need to be prioritized,” said Dr. Pavneet S. Mumick, Global Vice President, Technology & Innovation, Huntsman Corporation.

 “We generally think about the short term projects that fit in the description of quarterly targets but with sustainability we are being pushed to think about the long term. 85% of my portfolio is focused on sustainable products or mitigating products that are in bad shape from a sustainability standpoint. We are working on a product called Terrol where we are using the plastic waste from PET bottles to make Polyols. It gives us low raw material cost, better margins, less carbon footprint and recycled content. What we are trying to focus on is whether we reduce the cost when we go more and more green or where will the customers pay if we go for a higher cost. We are working on such kinds of products without ignoring the complete recyclability because at some point it will become important. By 2025, there will be too much need for bio based products,” added Dr. Mumick.

The concept of E-factor or Environment Factor and there are some myth busters. For example, oil refineries are most polluting followed by bulk chemicals, fine chemicals and the elephant in the room is the pharma chemical as they produce almost 25-30 times the effluents versus what is manufactured here. So the question is how do you do it efficiently. There is the concept of flow chemistry which has really done wonders. To name a few companies such as Novartis and Merck who have come up with novel processes where in a box of 130 litre capacity they are able to manufacture what a 10 tonnes reactor would do. This is where the innovation in chemicals should work,” said Dr. Mayukh G. Warawdekar, Vice President, Fine Organic Industries.  

“At the same time, R& D can’t work without marketing. In our organization, marketing is the eyes and ears of R&D. Based on customer needs that come through the sales and marketing team we plan our innovation matrix. Any new product should have an unbridled life of 3 years and after that it may lose its innovation. We have been pioneers in green chemistry and are using vegetable oils. The products are safe as we follow pure green chemistry. We tried zero effluent discharge technology a decade ago and have been continuously focusing on such processes that have zero water discharge. Despite the tedious regulatory approval system, are a forward looking, innovation challenging and green chemical company,” added Dr. Warawdekar.

“We have been working on biofuels for a long time and then it occurred to us that there are opportunities in many areas where we could provide green products. That’s how we started looking at areas where we felt that plastics is the one where we could work to provide options. One important fact related to plastics is pollution, waste reduction and management. When we say the impact of global warming and flooding, it is also because of the environmental changes but also many times it is man-made due to the choking of drainage due to plastics. The other important aspect is health impact. The UN has recently published a report where it highlighted the impact of plastics on human health. All these things put together have inspired us to work on bioplastics,” said Dr. Ashvini Shete, Senior Scientist, Praj Matrix.

“In plastics, there is an area where with the help of biotechnology and fermentation, you make either the intermediates or entire feedstock through bio-based polymers with fermentation and then you make biobased PET and other products. The other basket that we are currently working on is functionally advanced materials such as Poly-lactic acid and Poly Hydroxy Alkaloids. So these are the molecules fit to be called completely green as these come from bio-based feedstocks. They are produced using fermentation and are fully degradable. We are addressing both carbon emission as well as waste reduction in these cases,” said Dr. Shete.

“The purpose driven R& D always creates products that have acceptability in the market. The alignment between sales and marketing, R&D and investors is important as the latter have a risk appetite that plays a critical role in delivery of products to the market. The patience to work on new products is also required as a few times we tend to work on products with faster outcomes. The long-term projects are necessary for a well thought of innovation. A few times we waste time on a certain me-too type of chemistry rather than focusing on something altogether new,” said Dr. Alok Khullar, Vice President - R&D, Hindusthan Speciality Chemicals.

 “I have also come across scenarios where the regulatory hassles have killed a few beautiful molecules. I started my career around the Bhopal gas leak tragedy and we were working on Methyl Isocyanide to find out the exact cause and how it could have been avoided. We developed a few molecules using the same chemistries for the defence persons. Eventually, the regulations didn’t allow these to reach fructification. My learning was that chemistry should be purpose driven. In my 17 years journey in agrochemicals, I learned that right use of chemicals is important. Later in my career, I learned how the interface of chemistry, biochemistry, biotechnology and other fields could churn out great products. My advice to the younger generation is that they must expand their horizons and not limit themselves to one particular field,” added Dr. Khullar.

NextGen Chemical and Petrochemical Summit 2023 themed, ‘Innovation, Self-reliance and Sustainability’ witnessed attendance by a huge number of stakeholders from the chemical and petrochemical industry across India. 

The Summit was supported by the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers and co-partnered by DCM Shriram. The Gold Partners of the event were Premier Tech, Ingenero, Rieco, ABB, PIP, Deepak Group, Dassault Systemes, Moglix and Siemens. Associate Partners were Tata Chemicals, Anupam Rasayan India, Sealmatic, Godavari Biorefineries, Huntsman, Tranter, Source.One, IPCO, and Aeroflex. The Lanyard Partner was Jakson Green.

Industry Association Partners were AMAI, Gujarat Chemical Association, CropLife India, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Manufacturers Association, India and, AgroChem Federation of India. 

Register Now to Attend Navigating the Path to Net-zero in the Chemicals Industry on Friday, 26 July 2024

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